Openly communicating throughout the year

July 25, 2013

Nowak,TonyLOWres Maintaining communication with your son or daughter when they are in college is important,  whether they are a first-year student or a senior. College students want to be on their own, while, at the same time, often continuing to turn to you for support. By maintaining open communication with your student, you will have a better understanding of what they are going through and how you can offer support when it is needed.

CrandallJennifercropped2Following are tips for communicating with your student to facilitate an open exchange of information. Below them are typical conversation topics that may arise throughout the year and how you can respond.

Tips for effective communication:

  • Choose time and place carefully – Agree on a time to have a conversation, maybe once a week at first. Then, once your student is acclimated to college, you may choose to decrease the regularity of your conversations. When you do talk, minimize distractions so you have your student’s full attention. However, it is important to remember that even when you schedule a time to talk, communication will often be spontaneous and at times when your student needs your support.
  • Ask the right questions – Asking open-ended questions, like “How was your class today?” will likely get a one-word response of “fine.” But saying, “Tell me what it is about your Visual Color Dynamics class that you like so much” provides room for a more detailed answer from your student. Carefully thinking of your questions can help the conversation be more productive.
  • Stop talking; listen – Listening is a skill. In most cases, because we want to help and provide a quick resolution, we may jump in with advice or plan what we want to say next. As a result, we miss what is being said. One of the best ways to encourage productive communication is to be a better listener.
  • Watch/listen for cues – If you’re talking with your student over the phone, listen to the tone of their voice. Tone of voice may be one of the first forms of communication to reveal emotion. If you’re speaking to your student in person or chatting on Skype, watch their body language and facial expressions. Do they contradict the verbal message?
  • Clarify – Make sure you understand what your student is really saying. Let them know what you think they are saying and ask for clarification. Doing this will lead to fewer misunderstandings.
  • Acknowledge – Show that you appreciate your student’s willingness to share with you. If you need time to think about a difficult topic, ask your student to discuss it further at a later date. The more positive the experience, even with difficult topics, the more likely your student will continue to share with you.

Common scenarios you may run into when conversing with your student:

  • Homesickness – It is common for many students to feel homesick at some point in their college career. When homesickness hits, suggest that your student:
  1. Call home, but not all of the time. When students are missing friends/family, a phone call can help ease some of their stress.
  2. Visit, but not often. Going home can be great to recharge, but going home too often can make homesickness worse.
  3. Get involved at school and get out of your room; focus on classwork or join a group. Being connected with more people will help your student feel more at home.
  • Roommate concerns – Your student may have shared a room with a sibling growing up, or may be sharing a living space for the first time. Although challenges may arise, having a roommate can be a great part of the college experience. If a disagreement occurs, your student will probably go to you first. Listen to them; they may just need to vent. If there is an issue, students should speak to the resident assistant (RA) about the situation. RAs, with the assistance of the Hall Director, can mediate many roommate situations.
  • Challenges with an instructor/class – Your student may be upset over a lower than expected grade on a project or a misunderstanding with an instructor. Again, listen to the concern. Encourage your student to have a conversation with the instructor about the course. If your student is not comfortable speaking to an instructor, encourage them to see the Dean of Students or Associate Dean of Students.
  • Financial issues – Many students worry about their financial situation while in college. A part-time job might help your student. Students can work with Career Services to seek out employment opportunities. You should also encourage your student to speak with the Financial Aid Office to answer any questions regarding their aid or loans. Scholarships are another source of money students can apply for and can be found on the Internet.

These are just some of the common conversations you might have with your son or daughter as they go through their college experience. The most important conversational skills are to listen and to acknowledge what your student is saying. A parent is often the first person a student will turn to when upset. In that moment, you will often get their emotional release. Keep this in mind when you are communicating with your student. Remember to listen, acknowledge and follow up the next day.

By the time you follow up, things most likely will have resolved. If your son or daughter is still upset, encourage them to speak to the appropriate resource: faculty, advisor, financial aid department, learning resource center, etc. If, after speaking to your student, you are concerned, you can contact us at the numbers below.

Tony Nowak, Dean of Students, 414-847-3240

Jennifer Crandall, Associate Dean of Students, 414-847-3344


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: